The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica is the ultimate multi-day ultrarunning race, many say it is the toughest one in the world. There are a number of races that cover 230km or have 10,000 metres of elevation or take place in a jungle, but The Coastal Challenge combines all of these elements!
The race starts by the Pacific Ocean and takes competitors through jungles riddled with snakes and spiders, as well as crocodile-infested river crossings. And if that's not enough, the high humidity together with temperatures well above 35°C definitely put some of the best athletes in the world to the ultimate endurance test.
Above all that, it is a truly stunning race which is why runners keep coming back – this year marked the 14th edition of the Coastal Challenge. The action takes place in a South West corner of Costa Rica and over six days the runners really get to know what this corner of the world has to offer. Undiscovered jungles full of wild waterfalls, a beautiful Pacific coastline with its incredible beaches, and hidden single trails with views worthy of Nat Geo covers.
Stage 1: First 35km – getting to know the jungle
After a hot beach start, the runners head straight inland to taste what the jungle has to offer. Not the longest stage, but it's the first time for many running in such a challenging environment.
Today we had a little taste of what this race is all about and it was just incredible. Very tough, but incredible
Stage 2: 40km, with a very hot beach finish
Going into the second stage, the runners knew what to expect (thanks to the treacherous opening day). However, they were quickly shocked when the first 5km was straight uphill, with a painful elevation of 600 metres.
The winding jungle path really felt never-ending! Looking at the course map, you'd think that the runners would welcome the last 10km on a beach, but with temperatures north of 40°C, the opposite was true.
To hear a contrasting experience – ultrarunning in frigid UK terrain – listen to Jasmin Paris's experience winning the Spine Race:
Stage 3: The 47km stage that had it all – waterfalls, jungles and beaches
This 47km stage covered a variety of terrain (from technical mountain trails and stunning beaches, to jungle sections that were cleared out specifically for this race) all interspersed with a number of waterfalls. A welcome relief for competitors who used the fresh water to cool their sweaty bodies.
Stage 4: A technical stage of 37km, with a variety of terrain
By day four fatigue had set in and when walking around the campsite in the morning it was clear that the Coastal Challenge was starting to take its toll. Nevertheless, at the first morning light everybody suddenly lit up and the race continued with another incredibly tough stage with almost 2,500 metres of elevation.
“It is a such a long race and still – one mistake and you’re done!” Timothy Olson said just moments after spraining his ankle forced him to withdraw.
Stage 5: The longest stage of the race – nearly 50km
The penultimate stage is a key day for many. This late in the race, runners are tired and bruised, but definitely not broken. It's a long day though (starting at 6am) and some runners don’t finish the stage until just after sunset.
Twice during stage five the runners had to cross a river infested with crocodiles. And nobody wants to play with these creatures, so a boat is everybody’s best option.
Stage 6: The 22km victory lap
The final stage loops around the Corcovado National Park and presents a little summary of what is this race all about. This edition was won by Tom Evans (21h 44m 11s) who also set a new course record. Ragna Debats was the first female to complete this year (26h 14m 39s), and she broke the female record, as well as finishing in sixth place overall.